‘Four [4] companies of Marines landed with the first Europeans to settle in Australia’. Introduction, Dr. Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986   


‘Every morning from daylight until the sun sank did we sweep the horizon  in the hope of seeing a sail’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. L.F. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1961 


‘Perched precariously on the edge of an impenetrable continent, the threat of starvation constantly present, death was never remote from the tiny colony’. Dr. Bryan Gandevia, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 61 Part 1, 1975

1 June 1790: ‘From our friends and connections we have been entirely cut off  no communication  whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th of May 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth…in which long period no supplies, except what had been procured by Sirius for us at the Cape of Good Hope had reached us’. Tench. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve January 1788 to June 1790

Norfolk Island: In March 1790 while evacuating 50% of Sydney’s starving white population to the island Sirius struck a submerged reef. Caught in ‘pounding surf in every side’ she sank.

The Sirius  crew, 150 Royal Naval personnel, survived the sinking but were stranded on the island along with the evacuees.

1791 – Sydney, 21 September: HMS Gorgan, a converted warship, reached Sydney Cove on 21 September 1791. She carried few prisoners. Her captain John Parker’s principal task was to return the ‘four companies of marines’ home to England.

Gorgan’s voyage was to be  a repeat performance of an earlier  rescue mission stitched up by Governor Phillip.

Norfolk Island: In March 1791 Phillip had chartered Waaksamheyd, a Dutch ship  from Jakarta, to ‘rescue’ the crew of HMS Sirius stranded on Norfolk Island since March 1790.

Governor Phillip paid Deter Smidt Waaksamheyd‘s  captain to sail under ‘English Colours’ and return the Sirius’ blue crew (150)  to England. Captain Hunter RN would serve as sailing master.



Similarly Captain Parker was to retrieve men and families of the military ‘scarlet’ arm of the Royal Navy, integral to Britain’s amphibious invasion of New Holland in 1788 and return them to England.

Norfolk Island: Overdue for repatriation the rank and file who stayed at Sydney were overjoyed at the prospect of reuniting with their families still on on Norfolk Island.

Only HMS Supply  (170 tons) was available to ferry a few at a time to Sydney.Fortunately towards the end of September 1791 Queen a convict ship from Ireland arrived. After discharging her prisoners Queen was commandeered and sent off to Norfolk Island.

1791 – Sydney, 13 December: With the exception of Marine Lieutenant George Johnston and a few rank and file, the entire marine garrison with wives and children, began boarding HMS Gorgon.

1791 – Africa, 19 December: Gorgan departed Sydney for England via Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope in mid December.

1792 – Cape Town, 11 March:Parker reached the Cape of Good Hope in  mid March 1792.

1792 – Portsmouth, April 2: A week or two later  yhe Sirius crew disembarked from Waaksamheyd at the very spot from where five (5) years earlier they departed for Botany Bay. See: The Flying Dutchman and the Botany Bay Escapees

1792 – Portsmouth, 2 April: Waaksamheyd with  the Sirius crew made landfall at Portsmouth at the beginning April 1792.

13/3/23 §

Meanwhile at Cape Town Gorgan’s voyage was about to turn the first page on another chapter of a truly extraordinary sea – saga. The following day Horssen, a Dutch ship from Coupang, West Timor arrived with Mary Bryant and daughter Charlotte.

1792 – Cape Town, March: Shortly after two (2) more crowded Dutch vessels Hoonwey, Vreedenberg dropped anchor in Table Bay.

Some were escapees and they  joined Mary and Charlotte on Gorgan. One James Martin a tall dark-haired Irishman, wrote ‘we was well known by all the marine officers which was all glad that we have not perished at sea’.

A year had passed since their escape ( March 1791) from Sydney Cove to West Timor in Governor Phillip’s cutter. Baby Emanuel was dead as was Mary’s husband Will.

‘I [Tench] could not but reflect with admiration at the strange combination of circumstances which had again brought us together, to baffle human foresight and confound human speculation’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, L. F. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1961

For much of their time at Coupang, West Timor Mary and her friends had been  they had been under control of cruel Captain Edward Edwards RN of HMS Pandora. See: Pandora’s Box and the Botany Bay Escapees

Hoonwey and Vreedenberg carried mostly mutineers from HMS Bounty, surviving castaways from the Bounty mutiny and survivors of both that mutiny and the wreck of the Pandora.

HMS Pandora was sent by the Admiralty to hunt  down Lieutenant Fletcher Christian RN, leader of the Bounty mutiny and his fellow mutineers.


From day one the Gorgan voyage had proved difficult. Ferocious winds broke spars and masts, ripped sails, snapped ropes and bones.All aboard endured freezing conditions.

Captain Parker had followed Captain Hunter’s  Sirius 1788- 9  charts and like him sailed into the southern oceans Parker and encountered a myriad  ‘islands of ice’. 

1792 – Cape Horn, 8 February:Gorgon rounded Cape Horn in the early hours of the 8th of February 1792.

1792 – Cape of Good Hope,11 March: A month later a relieved Captain Parker tied up in Table Bay. Again he hoped for a quick departure but once more it was not to be.


14/3/23  The reason for the delay was truly extraordinary.

1792 – Cape Town: The very next day (12 March) Horssen a Dutch vessel arrived from Jakarta. On board was Mary Bryant, her daughter Charlotte and more escapees from Botany Bay.

In quick succession two (2) more Dutch vessels Hoonwey and Vreedenberg came into port with more escapees and a harrowing story.

‘I [Tench] could not but reflect with admiration at the strange combination of circumstances which had again brought us together, to baffle human foresight and confound human speculation’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, L. F. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1961


A year had passed since their escape ( March 1791) from Sydney Cove to West Timor in Governor Phillip’s cutter. Baby Emanuel was dead as was Mary’s husband Will.

For much of their time Mary and her friends had been at Coupang, West Timor they were under control of cruel Captain Edward Edwards RN of HMS Pandora. See: Pandora’s Box and the Botany Bay Escapees


The newcomers disembarked from Hoonwey and Vreedenberg and joined Mary and Charlotte on Gorgan.  One escapee, James Martin a tall dark-haired Irishman, wrote ‘we was well known by all the marine officers which was all glad that we have not perished at sea’.


It would be an understatement to say Tench was gob-smacked when the ‘Botany Bay Escapees’ arrived at Cape Town, nor can there be doubt he related emotionally to their stories of ‘hardship and difficulty’.

Captain Edwards RN had been sent by the Admiralty to search for and arrest Lieutenant Fletcher Christian RN and as many Bounty mutineers as possible.


But by the time HMS Pandora reached Tahiti Fletcher Christian had already fled for Pitcarin Island in HMS Bounty. There he set fire to Bounty   and settled down with other mutineers and their Tahitian wives.

On Tahiti Edwards rounded up fourteen (14) of those who stayed on there. Of those who survived the sinking of Pandora, off Flores in August 1791,Gorgan’s Captain Parker took four (4), William Millward, James Morrison, Peter  Haywood and William Muspratt on board.


1792 – Cape of Good Hope, 6 April: HMS Gorgan departed Cape Town for England. Mary Bryant had yet to face her worst nightmare.

Marine Lieutenant Ralph Clark wrote; ‘hot as hell…playing the devil with the children’.

On the previous leg – Sydney to Cape Town – ice and cold had been the enemy but now, out of Africa towards England, it was ‘excessive heat’.

Lieutenant Clark was no disinterested observer. He travelled with Mary Branham his ex-convict common-law wife and Alicia, their 18 months old daughter (named for Clark’s much loved legal wife), together with William, Mary’s four (4) year old son, from a previous relationship. See: The Clue of the Scarlet Cloth

ccccccccc1792 – Gorgan at sea, May:  Clark recorded the death of five (5) children; ‘the children are going very fast…another died on the 4th May, another on the 5th’.

1792 – 6 May:  At 4 am on May 6 Charlotte died in Mary Bryant’s arms. Clark attributed the toddler’s death to ‘excessive heat’. By the middle of the month two (2) more marine wives and nine (9) children were dead.

1792 – England,18  June: Gorgan reached Portsmouth on 18 June 1792, the port from where five (5) years earlier – 13 May 1787 – convict Mary Bryant guarded by Captain Tench and marines of the Sydney Garrison, sailed for Botany Bay.


The Bounty mutineers were transferred to HMS Hector to await court-martial. Its result were in general held to be unfair. On Tahiti Millward and Burkett had fathered children.

Along with Ellison the youngest member of the Bounty crew, at the end of October 1792, these three (3) men were hanged from the yard-arm of HMS Brunswick.

1792 – 20 London, June: Meantime Mary with the four (4) surviving convict escapees were taken off Gorgan and lodged in Newgate gaol. They appeared before magistrate Nicholas Bond and Captain Edwards identified them as the ‘Botany Bay escapees’ he had arrested on Timor.

1792 – Old Bailey, 7 July: All escapees were charged with return ‘before expiry of sentence’ and remanded in custody to appear at the Old Bailey on 7 July 1792.

Since the Transportation Act Geo. 1 (1717[18] convicts found ‘at large within the kingdom before expiry of sentence’ attracted mandatory death.cccccccc

Mary now a childless widow was desolate. She was not however without friends. It is not clear who – if anyone – approached James Boswell to defend the ‘Botany Bay Escapees’.

Their extraordinary story alone may have aroused Boswell’s interest linked as it was to the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ and wreck of HMS Pandora.

Certainly sensational stories of tyrannical Captain William Bligh RN, mutinous Lieutenant Fletcher Christian RN and cruel Captain Edward Edwards RN and the horrors of ‘Pandora’s Box’, filled London and provincial newspapers for months.

Boswell’s motivation may have sprung directly from these accounts. But it is also possible an interested party intervened. Captain Watkin Tench, soon to publish his second book on Botany Bay – Sydney’s First Four Years – may have prompted Boswell’s interest. See: Boswell Goes Into Bat for the ‘Botany Bay Escapees’. ccccccc

ccccccccThere is however another possibility. HMS Gorgan had on board an object of great interest.  K-1 a faithful copy of John Harrison’s H-4 ‘genius pocket-watch’ .

As Dava Sobel wrote so eloquently in Longitude;  ‘Harrison …wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch’. 

The K-1 ‘pocket-watch’ had been given into the care of Marine Lieutenant William Dawes the First Fleet’s scientific officer  by Rev. Nevil Maskelyne Britain’s Astronomer Royal.

cccccccccNow it was on its journey home to Greenwich Observatory where to this day it can be viewed reunited with John Harrison’s H4 ‘in a see-through cave’.See: Marine Lieutenant William Dawes and the ‘Eternal Flame’  

However it was not Lieutenant Dawes who returned K-1 to Maskelyne at Greenwich Observatory. When HMS Gorgan departed Sydney Cove K-1 was given into the care of Lieutenant Henry Ball RN.

As for Marine Lieutenant William Dawes he was under arrest and on his way to face court-martial and an almost  certain death sentence.


yyyyyyyyyyyyyyNorfolk Island: As early as February 1788 that island, two (2) weeks sailing time away from Sydney. had been occupied by the English. Three (3) days after the ‘First Fleet’ reached Botany Bay two (2) French ships La Boussole and L’Astrolabe arrived in the entrance to the bay.

So close a race, Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse was no doubt dismayed, but intent on claiming strategic advantages for King Louis XV1 of France he would raise the French flag where he could.

Norfolk Island: To stymie La Perouse the English established a satellite settlement on an uninhabited island Captain Cook had named Norfolk.

Initially it was little more than a white baby- farming initiative. Perhaps the best known coupling was that of convict Anne Innet with Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN. The first of their two (2) sons – Norfolk – was born on the island in 1789.

1789 § 1789

‘It is true our surgeons brought out variolous matter in bottles’. Tench. ibid. 

1789 – Sydney, April: Smallpox wiped out 50% of Sydney Eora Nations’ Peoples. The virus did not affect the European population. See: Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat

In March 1790, to save ‘his people’ – white people – from starvation and near certain death, Governor Phillip drew of that experience and  evacuated 50% of Sydney’s white population to Norfolk Island. Joseph Jefferies – From New York to Rio and old Sydney Town – One then there was None.  

YYYYYYYYYYYYHMS Sirius had landed her evacuees and supplies when ‘in pounding surf on every side’ she swung on her anchor, hit a submerged reef and sank. The Sirius crew (150) were stranded on Norfolk Island until retrieved (March 1791) by Waaksamheyd.






‘Military and police raids against dissenting Aboriginal groups lasted from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. These raids had commenced by December 1790’. Professor Bruce Kercher, History of Law in Australia, Allen and Unwin, Sydney 1995

At first Lieutenant Dawes flatly refused to obey the orders given for the first of two (2) raids ordered by Governor Phillip in December 1790.

Sydney – 1790, 13 December: ‘Infuse universal terror…put ten [10] to death…cut off, and bring back the hands of the slain…two [2] prisoners I [Phillip] am resolved to execute the prisoners who may be brought in, in the most public and exemplary manner, in the presence of as many of their countrymen as can be collected’. General Orders, Governor Arthur Phillip RN, cited Tench. ibid.  See: Arthur’s Algorithm  

Captain Tench too appears to have been uncomfortable with the orders. Phillip invited him; ‘to propose any alteration of the orders under which I was to act’.

Tench proposed; ‘capture six (6)…a part should be set aside for retaliation; and the rest, at a proper time liberated, after seeing the fate of their comrades.

This scheme, his excellency was pleased instantly to adopt, adding if six [6] cannot betaken, let that number be shot’. Tench.

Dawes stood at the head of his section as Captain Tench addressed the detachment of fifty (50) troops; ‘be ready to go out tomorrow morning [14th] at daylight with three [3] days provisions, ropes to bind our prisoners with and hatchets and bags, to cut off and contain the heads of the slain’.       

Dawes had offered his initial refusal through his Adjunct who no doubt threatened to arrest him. Tench advised Dawes to consult the fleet Chaplain Rev. Richard Johnson.

Johnson counselled Dawes on his military obligations. On the chaplain’s advise he agreed to join the raid. The action was unsuccessful.

1790 – Sydney, 17th December:The detachment returned empty-handed,no prisoners, no heads. However they returned to a very different settlement than the one they left just three (3) days prior.

The Waaksamheyd from Jakarta had arrived that very morning. Sydney was alive with possibilities. See: The Flying Dutchmen and the Botany Bay Escapees


Dawes wrote directly to ‘his excellency’ regretting his participation and stating his intention to refuse to comply if such an order was repeated.

1790 -Sydney, 22nd December: ‘Our first expedition having so totally failed, the governor decided to try the fate of a second, and ‘the painful pre-eminence’ again devolved on me.  The orders under which I [Tench] was to act differing in no respect from the last…’

Lieutenant Dawes refused ‘that duty’. It must be assumed, sentenced for and awaiting court-martial, Dawes would have been held under close arrest during HMS Gorgan’s voyage to England.

Should have been or would have been? That is the question? First we have to find Governor Arthur Phillip RN,‘the least-known founder of any modern state – in this case Australia’.

Can it be done? Yes it can.


In 2010 Cambridge University Press reprinted Mary Ann Parker’s A Voyage Round the World in the Gorgon Man of War. Parker’s book is an important addition to the canon of early women’s travel writing’.

Mary Parker was widowed in 1795. She wrote the memoir to support her family. Her observations give valuable insight into the social divisions within the ‘oh so’ British white population glaringly obvious at the time of Gorgan’s Sydney’s visit – March 1791.

These divisions centred on Lieutenant John Macarthur of the New South Wales Infantry Corps. Just one year earlier, in June 1790, Macarthur, Elizabeth his pregnant wife and Edward their toddler son arrived on the second fleet – ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’.

Prejudice: Elizabeth Macarthur’s  attitude towards Mary Johnson, wife of ‘First Fleet’ Chaplain Richard Johnson, the only other white woman in the tiny colony of similar station’ makes sickening reading.

Her opinion of Mary; ‘a person in whose society I could reap neither profit nor pleasure’. Early Records of the Macarthurs

Pride: John ‘MacMafia’ Macarthur’s pride was boundless. The ‘pipes’ of the teetotaller who put the ‘Rum’ into the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps were scurrilous.

Macarthur was the common denominator in the downfall of Governor Phillip’s immediate successors the ‘autocratic naval governors’ – Captain John Hunter, Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King and Captain William Bligh.

‘Rumour is a pipe Blown by surmises, Jealousy’s conjectures’. William Shakespeare, Henry IV, 

See: Machiavellian Macarthur Post Governor Phillip



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